I was delighted that Jeremy Corbyn made his New Year address in the constituency of Peterborough that I was proud to represent as a Labour MP from 1997-2005.
I was even happier that Jeremy spoke in the ward of Paston where people work hard for themselves and their families without necessarily enjoying an affluent lifestyle.
However, I was angered that former national Westminster lobby journalist, Paul Richards chose to sneer at Paston and its residents by means of a cheap jibe at the leader, saying that in speaking at Paston Farm, Jeremy Corbyn had picked a venue that was a ‘painted cowshed.’ Let’s set the record straight.
Paston Farm was originally a community facility with excellent outdoor sports equipment; the brainchild of local people who raised funds to build it. The facility was situated in Paston Farmhouse yard; itself preserved from redevelopment when Paston Ridings Road and Common Land were built upon by the then Labour Government’s Peterborough Development Corporation. When the Conservatives gained control of Peterborough City Council, the play equipment was neglected, with just a small children’s play centre remaining. When that Council adopted an austerity budget, it was sold off altogether, thereby depriving Paston children of indoor play facilities.
Paston Labour Councillors, John Knowles, Jonas Yonga and others then came to the rescue and together with local residents, set up the Paston Farm Community Foundation Trust. The Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner donated money for a Police Boxing club, financially matched from Cllr Knowles’ Community Fund. The Centre is open for public bookings and includes a nutritious and affordable café.
This Centre is a valuable public resource. Other groups using it include the Voyager Academy which has a full time educational facility for pupils who are unsuited to mainstream education. It also hosts a learning difficulties group including people with RTA brain injuries; the U3A Arts group, a Keep Fit class, a mixed ability Karate group and a wider Arts group. The Centre also has an area used to screen films with a film club for disabled people and this space has been used also for live theatre performances. Perhaps best of all, the original outdoor activity equipment has been replaced and at the suggestion of former Labour Councillor Knowles, the area is currently let out to a company specialising in outdoor activity courses. The entire Centre has been refurbished with the help of some of Peterborough’s philanthropic local businesses.
All this superb and public spirited community effort has been in effect, rubbished by a journalist who knows nothing of Peterborough and its people and cares less. Paul Richards just wanted to find a cheap way to denigrate the Labour leader and saying that he makes important speeches in a cowshed served the purpose.
In contrast, as Peterborough’s last Labour MP, I am delighted that Jeremy made his keynote speech in Paston. He could, of course, have insisted that he spoke from the lavish backdrop of the Town Hall and caroused in the Mayor’s Parlour with its ancient and imposing array of photographs and memorabilia. The fact that he chose Paston speaks volumes about the man. As Prime Minister he will represent the many and not the few and govern in the interests of the whole nation and not a moneyed and privileged ‘entitled’ elite.
Helen Clark (Labour MP for Peterborough 1997-2005)